TORONTO (Sep. 26) — So, nearly one month into the critical Autumn ratings period, the tall foreheads at 1 Mount Pleasant Rd. have given the green light for yet another programming overhaul at Sportsnet–590.
I’ll say one thing for Rogers: the company is breathtakingly consistent. Since 2010, its financial geniuses — most of whom wouldn’t know a radio from a bullhorn — have been completely in charge. As such, Canada’s first all–sports station has introduced a new Morning Show (to replace the old “new” Morning Show and the “new” one before that) and has revamped two of the most–important hours in the afternoon–drive slot… all without costing a nickle. It’s quite a trick, if you can get away with it. And, Rogers is convinced it can get away with anything — even spending $5.2 billion for National Hockey League rights (in 2013) to artificially vault past TSN and keep the promise from executive Scott Moore of “becoming the No. 1 sports TV network in Canada.” That we couldn’t find Moore, today, with a GPS is hardly a shock. Every decision made for TV and radio in the past two years has trickled down from the absurd hockey deal; the company refers to it, internally, as “the onerous NHL contract” when dismissing yet another host or analyst in order to cut costs.
Please understand — and I stress — that nothing about this blog is intended to be remotely critical of the talent moving forward at Sportsnet–590. Among those in new radio slots are Scott MacArthur, Jeff Blair, Stephen Brunt, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro; all people that I know and admire. I wish them roaring success.
I also wish they worked for a company that cared more about the proper balance of entertainment, information and credibility than merely — and solely — the bottom line. As I’ve written in previous blogs, and dating to my final years (2008–11) as a hockey reporter at The FAN–590, decisions have been all about money. And, nothing else. As such, Rogers can fire Bob McCown and his $1 million–plus salary; shift Blair, Brunt and Richard Deitsch from 4–7 p.m. to 2–5 p.m. and simulcast, on radio, the TV production of Micallef and Seixeiro from 5–7 p.m. By ousting McCown and shuffling the deck–chairs, the company saves a bundle.
Same with the Morning Show, where Greg Brady has now twice been rinsed; likely earning a salary too rich for the number–crunchers in the ivory tower. A second personnel shuffle results in MacArthur, former NHLer Mike Zigomanis and Ashley Docking (hired last February for the a.m. hours) as the morning trio, with Hugh Burrill (another good man) relegated to a half–hour “lead–in” show (5:30–6 a.m.), providing scores and updates from the previous night. MacArthur, in virtually no time, has gone from Blue Jays reporter at TSN Radio to afternoon host at TSN Radio to the Blue Jays radio crew at Sportsnet–590 and, now, that station’s morning trio. His head must be spinning. But, I’m a big Scotty Mac fan and I wish him continued success.
THE NEW SPORTSNET–590 MORNING SHOW TRIO IN A PUBLICITY PHOTO–SHOOT. LEFT–TO–RIGHT: MIKE ZIGOMANIS, ASHLEY DOCKING, SCOTT MacARTHUR.
The Good Show, with my ol’ pal, Ben Ennis, moves from 1 p.m. to 9 a.m. I became friends with Ben’s father, Michael Ennis, in my early years covering the Leafs for The FAN–590. Michael was a captain at Air Canada. In the days before Sep. 11, 2001, passengers could visit the flight deck of commercial aircraft and I spent time with Michael, in 1995, on a lengthy trip from San Francisco to Toronto. Not long after, Michael brought young Benjamin (as he calls him) to our studio on Holly St. while I was hosting a show. I suppose it made an impression on the kid, who joined the radio station in 2005 and became ten times the broadcaster I ever was. Ben has crafted an exceptional career, also appearing on TV with Sportsnet. I’m eternally proud of him.
The constant shuffle of personnel at Rogers and the recent dismissals (McCown, Nick Kypreos, Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Scott Morrison) — again, all prompted by cost–cutting in the wake of the “onerous” NHL pact — makes me chuckle. Not at the fate of those now unemployed; beyond money, there was no justifying these decisions. But, I remember when Ted Rogers died in 2008 and the financial wizards marched in (led by Paul Ski) to skim the product and add to their bank accounts with “performance” bonuses for ruining careers. Don Kollins came aboard from Kitchener to replace Nelson Millman as program director of The FAN–590. Though I liked Don, he once made a disparaging comment to me about how the radio station had been operated under Millman, suggesting my long–time boss “couldn’t keep a budget”. I reminded Kollins of the “stability” we’d maintained for the better part of a decade and how The FAN–590 — during several of those years — was the highest–billing sports–radio station in North America. He was unmoved.
But, the facts don’t lie. From 1994 to 2010, The FAN–590 morning show featured only four broadcasters — first John Derringer and Pat Marsden; then, when Derringer moved back to Q–107, Marsden and Don Landry. When Pat retired in 2004, Gord Stellick joined Landry in the morning and that duo remained intact until being dismissed (by Ski and Kollins) in June 2010. McCown, of course, was a fixture in the afternoon–drive slot with Prime Time Sports. Stellick, for many years prior to joining Landry, hosted The Big Show leading into Prime Time. Mid–mornings were primarily the domain of Mike Hogan while the wee hours belonged to the “Late Night Vampire”, Stormin’ Norman Rumack (preceded by Spider Jones, whose producer was a then–unknown named George Stromboulopoulos). As for our sports teams, I covered the Leafs; Scott Ferguson (until 2000) then Mike Wilner, the Blue Jays; Barry Davis, the Raptors. This group stayed together for more than 10 years. Listeners to The FAN–590 knew where — and when — to hear their favorite shows.
BACK IN THE DAY: FAN–590 RADIO ADS FROM 1995 (LEFT) AND 2003.
Once the financial geniuses took control — and continuing to this day — there ensued a dizzying pattern of hirings, firings and defections in the key morning slot (including Andrew Krystal, Jim Lang, Dean Blundell, Elliott Price, Andrew Walker and Brady). The afternoon–drive remained intact, though heads would spin when trying to keep track of McCown’s co–hosts (Damien Cox and Brunt twice; Deitsch, Shannon, Joey Vendetta, the late Jim Kelley). And, now, another revamping of personnel in all hours of the day.
So, yeah, call me old–fashioned, but I’ll take the decade of stability in my years at The FAN–590 — when actual “programming” decisions were made — over the “all–about–money” shuffling, re–shuffling and un–merited dismissals of today. Sports–radio, I can guarantee, was a lot more fun back then.
I only watch the Leaf games on Sportsnet, anything else its usually TSN…same with the radio…Leafs at Noon is terrible now with Mac and Kipper gone, McCown gone …no point in tuning in…Tim and Sid are just OK . prefer Odog and company.
“…even spending $5.2 billion for National Hockey League rights (in 2013) to artificially vault past TSN and keep the promise from executive Scott Moore of “becoming the No. 1 sports TV network in Canada.” ”
Sorry, am I missing the subtext here? It seems to me that there is nothing artificial given how live events and hockey drive ratings in this country. What are you referring to when saying “artificially vault” past TSN? The deal may not be working as intended, that’s fine, but in this business, it seems that money and having the actual content that Canadians want is the only important thing, not the preferences (or apparent lack of professional look) of one station over another. No? I’m just curious about that comment.
You speak of the manifesto of Sportsnet in the same way that I do. As is the case with Bell, Corus, Rogers and anyone else, there are few if any programming decisions being made. They’re ALL financial. The product is as insignificant to them as a squeaky chair in the production control room. Where is the CRTC in all of this? Is it not their primary function to protect the public airwaves and hold license holders to what they agreed to, to secure those licenses? We both know that McCown had them over a barrel since he signed, literally minutes before the launch of “The Fan 1430” 27 years ago. We were both there. If it was THAT easy to get rid of him, just weeks ago, they must be kicking themselves for not doing it, years ago. They’re saving a bundle. Well into seven figures by unloading so many quality broadcasters. They’ll likely get away with it too. Their balance sheet in the black for a change. The irony being that their product will suffer by leaps and bounds but their numbers will likely not suffer the same fate and THAT’S ALL they care about.
Hey Howard! Good stuff and painful truths. As A side note, I came to the FAN in 1994 and worked with Bob, then they brought in John and we worked together until 1996/97. (During the Telemedia, to Standard (That’s right Standard owned the FAN for about 24 hours) then Rogers….
Greg Brady didn’t care for Howard Berger. Brady was divisive and blamed others for his misdeeds inside the building. Co-hosts and producers had to twist his arm to have the likes of Berger, Smith, Armstrong and others who contributed greatly to the FAN 590.
The radio side is as bad as the baseball side at Rogers. Not much in the way of entertainment value.
Hard to believe, in 1988 on a trip to Saudi Arabia on a 747 my work partner and I asked the stewardess if we could get in the cockpit. Surprisingly we were invited up and spent a good 45 minutes in there shooting the sh.. with the pilots about low level geophysical airborne surveys. Would never happen today.
The biggest loser in all this is the viewer/listeners. The “onerous TV deal has created an insatiable hunger for content which is likely impossible satisfy. As a result, and this is my opinion, but the correct one, coverage and journalistic ethics have seldom been worse. Media and journalism is one of the few examples of quality going down as competition ramps up. Howard may be correct when discussing the performance bonuses and those who do anything for them, but there are many reporters and columnists that have the same priority. Motivated by money and ego they have little if any ethics. Media people who get stories wrong or fabricated in order to outdo the other guy. They write about players eating hot dogs or contact family members to get a scoop on a players health only to claim it was because of the concern around concussions and not solely because the player is a Leaf. When asked “ok then, if that’s true how many unknown amateur athletes, high school kids with concussions did you also research?” Of course the answer is “none”. There’s just too many pundits, reporters, insiders etc and this allows them to act poorly while going unnoticed. Howard, you’re not gonna get any sympathy. You and your colleagues know now what’s like being on the same employment knife edge as everyone else.
Howard you are missed re reporting on the leafs like in the more stable days, this company is a sports station with people running it has no clue on what the listener wants, they don’t know a baseball from a hockey puck. The radio part of this company has no stability re on air personal, TSN hopes they keep screwing up , it just keeps putting them way ahead in the ratings .
I was a loyal listener to the fan since 1999 and I remember the days when it was number 1 and there was no other place I’d listen to for my sports talk. All the on air talent you included knew what they were talking about and I knew who was going to on and at what time. When the firings began I called in and spoke to don kollins and I boxed big time my displeasure that all the talent I loved were gone. He told me “this sometimes has to happen to keep things fresh and that I would love the new shows” I didn’t. Since then it’s been a slow decline and I’ve been a loyal TSN listener since and now think it’s number 1. The good old days are gone and it’s sad to see that a giant in sorts radio is now an ant. Love your work and great article!
For me the tipping point was the way that Rogers jettisoned Bob McCown like a week old sandwich. After that, I knew things would only get worse.
The suits at Rogers didn’t disappoint and have basically welcomed the competition to eat their lunch.